Monday, October 24, 2011

If your colors were like my dreams

A friend of a friend was in "Year Zero" at a local theatre, so I went to see it. The play focuses on young Cambodian Americans growing up in Southern California and the legacy of the Killing Fields in their lives.

It's definitely a drama, but it's interspersed with many moments of comedy - which, I think, made it more real. Aside from the incredibly heavy topic of the Killing Fields, the play also addressed school bullying, gang members, prison terms, reincarnation, and the death of a parent. And amid all that, it managed to capture the funny and tender moments of sibling relationships, teenage angst, and old flames rekindled.

One of the central themes that struck me was the idea of running away in order to survive. Each character runs away from something (bullies, repressed memories, a gang war) - even going back to their parents who fled a genocidal regime. But they're also running toward a slightly more stable, if uncertain future: college, a new home, the promise of financial stability, or simply being alive.

It reminded me of high school, where second-generation peers from immigrant families faced a lot of the same push-and-pull waves of culture, memory, and dreams.

At one point in the play, two characters debate reincarnation and how they would like to be reborn: with absolutely no memories of their previous lives, or knowing and remembering everything from the past. In the end, their "Year Zero" is reset mid-stream - and the only choice they get is to decide whether or not to run towards rebirth.

It's a sobering thought, to think that survival can be so similar to reincarnation.

Monday, October 17, 2011

It's not right, but it's okay

About a year ago, I watched the Eminem/Rihanna "Love the Way You Lie" video. I'd heard the song everywhere - it was certainly a pretty enough tune, thought the lyrics were a questionable. So I googled to see the video. And then I watched in horror as I recognized parts of my own behavior and dependencies. In fact, I watched it about a dozen times in a row, not wanting to admit that I could relate emotionally to a song and video that, in effect, glorifies mutually abusive relationships.

Because Wehrenberg's book on anxiety management was somewhat useful, I decided to read her book on depression. And while some of the same issues I had with her other book are in this one as well, I've actually found most of the tips to be more helpful - especially the ones about getting out of cycles of negativity and despair and lashing out.

It's a very weird thing to stop feeling extreme emotions but not stop thinking them: for instance, pain manifesting itself as anger. Pre-meds, I'd get flushed and jittery and my heartbeat would pump up and I'd be thinking the stereotypical "Oh HELL NO" thoughts. But establishing a stabilized mood has eliminated those visceral reactions almost entirely, and what I'm still left with are the thoughts. And changing decades of the thought patterns about emotions is what I know I need to begin in order for an unhealthy cycle to stop. Despite great strides in the past year, there are still occasional lapses.

And there's still that damn laird's lug... the one that makes it seem like I'm invisible and watching my own life from a distance and can only watch helplessly as things fall apart and someone posing as me is complicit in it. But "hologram" is the only word I can find to describe the walls it seems like I'm trapped behind. It takes a lot of effort to realize they're not real, and that I can wrestle for control.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Light up, light up

Another day, another 5K - unlike last time, I didn't randomly sign up the evening before having to run 3.2 miles. This time, I'd also been playing in my soccer games and hadn't been drinking at weddings and birthdays for a week straight.

Luckily (though ironically), because I didn't drink beer at a friend's Oktoberfest birthday celebration the night before (though I did try to carbo-load on crackers), I did fine in the race and even beat my time from September. Didn't beat my personal record, though.

Next goal: to beat last year's Ann Arbor Turkey Trot time this year. It will be done!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Step around the heart of it

In the current mystery series I'm hooked on, the detective is an enterprising Irish immigrant in New York at the turn of the last century.

In Tell Me, Pretty Maiden, Molly Murphy is juggling five different cases - everything from an amnesiac woman to a haunted theatre - and of course most of them end up being connected in some way.

In previous books, real-life people (like President McKinley's assassin, the police Commissioner in 1901, and one of the first female NYPD officers) leap out of the pages of history and into Molly Murphy's world. In this one, Nellie Bly features prominently. (My grandparents gave me a biography of Nellie Bly for my twelfth birthday. I loved it.) And like Bly, Molly ends up going undercover in a women's mental institution to solve a case. She also jets down to Yale to dig up the truth about a missing student and joins the cast of a new risqué musical to find out who is the "ghost" scaring the performers in it.

In a Gilded Cage has less gallivanting around: Molly investigates several suspicious and sudden deaths during an influenza outbreak in the city. I guessed the identity of the murderer - that marks a first for me for any Rhys Bowen book. (I didn't, however, figure out the motive.)

The thing I love about this series is that there are so many different social movements and political undercurrents during this period in American history, and New York is a perfect melting pot for all of them. Each book has Molly encountering some new community or subculture; in Cage, it's the suffragist movement, as Molly joins a group of Vassar alumnae who march in support of votes for women.

I've already reserved the last two books in the set at the library - it's going to be so bittersweet when I've finished them! This series has been such a delight.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

They don't love you like I love you

I found myself having to give a glowing introduction at a recent community screening for a documentary I hadn't yet seen. As it turns out, Gerrymandering was a good primer on the use and abuse of drawing political boundaries in America. It does a pretty fair job of pointing out that both Republicans and Democrats have redrawn political maps to their own advantage. And it did an equally fair job of pointing out that while gerrymandering has historically been a tool to break up and disenfranchise blocs of voters (African Americans, Latinos) or even individuals (challengers to incumbents), it has also been a good way to elect people that would otherwise never have a chance at winning in existing districts (African Americans in the South, for instance).

The film heavily favors independent commissions as the solution to creating a fair redistricting process: it lauds Iowa's existing (and extraordinarily geeky) process and tells the story of California's successful 2008 ballot measure.

And because I nerded out two years ago over the Washington State redistricting board game, I could barely contain myself at the screening when the film highlighted the USC Annenberg Center's online redistricting game.

In an effort to gerrymander (of sorts) my own brain, I read a book recommended by a friend. The 10 Best-Ever Anxiety Management Techniques had lots of great tips for breathing exercises and getting out of the mental ruts and agonizing, circular thought patterns that characterize anxiety. (On the other hand, it also had a lot of fairly unhelpful tips too.) And I appreciated the chapter on neurology that explains some of the basic science behind anxiety.

At some points, I started to have minor hyperventilation episodes just reading about some situations and realizing I exhibit some of the same mental loops and behavior patterns. In the end, though, I'm glad I read the book.

Even though the author (a practicing psychologist) favors management techniques independent of medication like SSRIs or SNRIs, I'm actually grateful for the drugs. I like the idea of "using your brain to change your brain" by overcoming destructive and debilitating thoughts caused (in part) by chemical imbalances, but I also understand how drugs work on the same neurotransmitters. With or without either techniques or prescriptions, or using a combination of both, managing anxiety so that it doesn't overcome you is still a difficult and sometimes exhausting challenge.